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Happiness and the pursuit thereof - Phil's Rambling Rants — LiveJournal
August 21st, 2007
09:22 pm


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Happiness and the pursuit thereof

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[User Picture]
Date:August 22nd, 2007 03:02 am (UTC)
Oh my god, it's Nozick's Experience Machine argument against hedonism. How fantastic!

I don't have time to read this all tonight (tomorrow is the first day of class), but this is the part I worry about most:

First, an unchecked power to erase memories, brighten moods, and alter our emotional dispositions could imperil our capacity to form a strong and coherent personal identity.

I'm not at all convinced that a life in an experience machine (or a life drugged into feeling nothing but pleasure) retains any coherent sense of identity. I believe that something would be experiencing pleasure, but I'm not at all convinced that that something would still be me, in any meaningful sense.

Still, unless it proved highly detrimental to society, I would support the right of people to waste their lives in such a fashion. (And that is, of course, where the pursuit of happiness is limited. You are not allowed to pursue happiness if in doing so you would sufficiently impact the happiness of others. Hence while it might make a mass murderer extremely happy to kill other people, they aren't allowed to pursue that kind of happiness because it's bad for society.)

Of course, I'm not a hedonist, so my view of this isn't terribly surprising.
[User Picture]
Date:August 22nd, 2007 03:02 am (UTC)
Er, by "worry about most" I mean to say that "I agree with the article's concern - this is what worries me most about experience machines/spending your life drugged into feeling pleasure."
[User Picture]
Date:August 22nd, 2007 03:19 am (UTC)
I share your concern, or perhaps I should say I am also concerned that spending one's life drugged into pleasure would not actually be a good thing, since I'm not sure I understand the details of your concern enough to claim to share it.

But what I'm really worried about is the thinking "we, who are wiser than you, know that you can't find happiness down this path (at least in part because we got to define happiness and identity sapping meaningless pleasure is not it), so we will not allow you to go there", and then claim to be upholding the principle of the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Is a society in which the people are allowed few choices but most of them are genuinely happy a better one than one where people have many choices, but most people make bad ones and are not happy? Perhaps it is -- but not by the measure of how well it lives up to the ideals of the Declaration.
[User Picture]
Date:August 22nd, 2007 04:03 am (UTC)
But do you still have a society in such a circumstance? Or -- more to the point -- are these individuals part of the society?

I admit that I haven't read the article yet, but what I'm hearing sounds distressingly like, for example, Niven's tasps. They didn't seem to be a very good thing overall.
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